First Day of School: Global Edition

This post was written and researched by World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh intern, Jill Fronk.

September has arrived and is quickly passing by, which mean only one thing for students here in the U.S.—the beginning of school.  The new school year, means fresh new school supplies, yes some people would prefer a bouquet of pens and pencils to flowers; a trendy new backpack; and, of course, the perfect first day outfit. For the younger elementary school kids, there is the mandatory picture at the bus stop for the parents to have for their memories. First days also hold the possibility of delicious treats either in your packed lunch or waiting for you when you get home to tell your family about your first day of school. These traditions go somewhat differently around the world. Here’s a brief tour of the first day of school around the globe.


Children in Italy prepare for their first day of school by rushing out to buy the most fashionable new smock,or “work coat”; book bag; and diary, an agenda to write down all of their assignments. They each wear a ribbon with the color corresponding to the grade they will be entering. Traditionally, but not in all Italian cities, red is for first grade, pink for second, blue for third, green for fourth, and the three colors of the Italian flag (white, green, and red) for fifth.


In Germany, parents or grandparents give their children going into first grade a Schultϋten, or a school cone, to take with them on their first day. Their beautifully decorated cones are usually filled with candy, toys, and school supplies. They were traditionally given to make school a little sweeter with candies and chocolate. Today, they usually have a more practical application with gifts that will be more useful in the classroom, but the gift giver still remembers its original purpose with a few treats stored inside.


September 1st, also known as Knowledge and Skills Day, marks the first day of school in Russia. Children bring bouquets of flowers to their teachers, and attend a special ceremony. The ceremony ends with bells ringing to symbolize the “first bell” of the new school year. If September 1st falls on a Saturday, students are still required to go the ceremony, and actual classes will begin that Monday. Their first lesson focuses on peace; the importance of respecting others, protecting the environment, and the art of cooperation.


Kazakhstan has a similar tradition as Russia, where each student brings one flower to their teacher on the first day to give them a sense of purpose. The teachers gather all of their flowers to form a bouquet that symbolizes the growth they will have together throughout the school year. Children are given special bags for their first day containing treats, pencils, and candles.


Japanese children face one of the longest school years in the world, 250 days. On their first day of elementary school, children are presented with a randoseru (book bag) filled with unique school supplies; origami paper, slippers, and weeding tools. It also holds their first lunch of the year, rice with seaweed sauce and quail eggs, which is meant to bring good luck. Traditionally, girls were given red randoseru and boys were given black ones. Now they come in a variety of colors and styles. They are sometimes passed down to other family members or neighbors. Otherwise, pieces of their randoseru are used to make pencil cases for chuugako, middle school.


Most children in India go to a government school where there are large class sizes and teachers have a tendency to be the most absent person in the class. This doesn’t prevent students from being excited about their first day though. Praveshanotshavan, or Admission Day, as their first day of school is known, means gifts for the kids. The most popular gift, which may seem a little dull to most but an absolute necessity in India, is an umbrella. The beginning of their school year coincides with the beginning of monsoon season.


In Israel, school is considered to be “sweet” especially for those entering the 1st grade. On their first day, they pass through an archway that is made by the older students, and lick letters that are formed with honey off of a slate. This is meant to represent that “learning is sweet”. Balloons are also released by the older students during the ceremony.


Before school starts in early February, school supplies are purchased in advance because of the huge rise in inflation duringthis time of year. The price of school supplies can differ by 500% depending on the store you frequent. Students in the larger cities navigate big traffic jams and police who control the chaos that always come with the much anticipated first day.

If you want to learn more about education around the world, check out this past World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh blog post, Back to School from Around the World.